During my Memorial weekend in Boulder, CO, I had the chance to catch up with Paul Ambrose, a multiple ironman champion from Sydney, Australia. Like most of the Aussie triathletes I have met, Paul is a free spirited triathlete who is passionate about training, racing hard and hanging out at coffee shops sharing good times.
For a lot of us amateur triathletes, it seems very glamorous to be a pro triathlete. However, our fun experience training and racing is very different from what the pros go through. Being married to a pro triathlete, I have chatted with different top level athletes from all over the world, and their reality is not as glamorous as we think. Their fitness level is impressive, but, in my opinion, their mental strength is what separates them from us. This chat with Paul shows how determined and focused you have got to be to fight with the best in the world and also deal with a “not so fair” corporate system, that in the past few years has been making the professional triathletes lifestyles not as fun loving as they used to be.
From: Sydney, Australia
Day job: Professional Triathlete
Dream job: Professional Triathlete
“I am pretty fortunate with what I do! I cannot complain too much.”
When did you start doing triathlons and why?
PAUL: I started in late 2000 around the Sydney Olympics period. I just did a short one with some friends from school as a fun challenge, and basically from that day I was intrigued with the sport, and looking for new challenges ahead, so I joined a triathlon group and started to race quite a bit.
You have been racing triathlon for almost 16 years. Have you loved triathlon for all those years?
PAUL: I think I have a different conception of the sport now. When I started the sport 16 years ago, it was just an adventure trying to improve and be the best I could be for myself. As I moved onto the professional side of racing, it became more like a job. I still like it, but I don’t have the youthful passion that I used to have, but I still look back and feel privileged to be out there doing something that is not a typical 9 to 5 job. I am very fortunate in that aspect.
What do you love the most about the triathlon lifestyle?
PAUL: I like a few things…
I like to be my own boss, so I can train whenever I like, I can push as hard as I want, I can go as easy as I like. I like to travel and see new places. I don’t like cold weather, so I can avoid winters quite often. I’ve got friends all over the world, and meeting new people in different parts of the world is fantastic!
I like to be my own boss, so I can train whenever I like, I can push as hard as I want, I can go as easy as I like
You live part of the year in Australia and during summer you come to Boulder. What do you love about training in each place?
PAUL: Australia is where I come from, where I grew up. That’s where my family and childhood friends are. In Australia, you’ve got the really good “beach-sun-surf” culture, the banter, and the jokes between friends which I grew up with. It is a different mindset from what the Americans would have. It is my home.
Here (Boulder) is the totally opposite climate. Here you’ve got the mountains, the dry heat, the elevation, the beauty of the forest. People here are very friendly. Boulder has a very healthy outdoor culture. It is a smaller town with quieter roads, with an athletic and hippie influence.
So, I can get the best of both worlds!
Do you think Boulder is the mecca of triathlon?
PAUL: I think it is becoming that way. I don’t think it was originally, but just by word-of-mouth, it is growing in popularity because of the the ideal aspects for a triathlete to live and train here. We are getting a lot of top professionals moving here. Even foreigners are making this place their home. It is also kind of cult in a way, and it can be overwhelming at the same time because there are so many triathletes living here.
You just won the traditional Ironman Australia! Tell us about your race?
PAUL: It was the 30th year of the race, and I am 30, so it was a perfect synergy for the race and for myself. It is the fourth oldest ironman in the world, so it has a lot of history. Some of the best triathletes in the world made their mark in this race…Chris McCormack, Norman Stadler, Jürgen Zäck, Peter Reid, Pete Jacobs. They are all past champions of this race.
It is a great race because it is like Hawaii in the respect that they have the walk of champions where they put plaques along the run course commemorating those who have won with the year they won, and the time they did it in. I feel really privileged to win this race for the second time (Paul won this race in 2002 too). I had a tough day, and I didn’t feel I was in the best shape even though my preparation was perfect. But, that’s how it is. We have ups and downs, we go through a lot of harsh times during the race, then we keep pushing and start to go well. And fortunately, I pulled the win, so I was pretty happy winning after all. I can not really ask for more.
It was the 30th year of the race, and I am 30, so it was a perfect synergy for the race and for myself.
What are the changes you’ve seen in triathlon from when you started and now?
PAUL: It’s turning more into a corporation now. Before it was more of a fun loving and carefree sport. Now it is very business like. I think nowadays a lot of pros are getting over raced, for Ironman specifically, because of the point system in place. They make the pros chase these imaginary points to qualify for the Hawaii race, and Ironman knows and the athletes know that if you want to earn the supposed big bucks from triathlon, you’ve gotta go to Hawaii and you’ve gotta do well there. This system is making pro triathletes race around the world on their own dime, so the pros are racing more than they should, and they are not necessarily going to Hawaii in their best shape. It’s like boxing. If you do five big fights and try to fight the world champion, you are not going to be in the best shape you can be in. But, if you fight one guy, then train hard and get ready for a couple of months, when the big fight comes around, you might be able to beat him. It is a dictatorship of a large corporation that not too many pros can afford. Unfortunately, you’ve just gotta play nice and do what you can do, and maybe things will change. The problem is it is a business at the end of the day, and Ironman itself wants to make money. Like any industry, they want to cut costs, and at the moment, the professional level athletes are the people that are at a disadvantage.
Before it was more of a fun loving and carefree sport. Now it is very business like.
How do you keep yourself motivated and at such a high level of fitness for all those years?
PAUL: You have to keep setting new goals and new targets. I can’t just go around and train for the sake of training. I’ve got to have a plan…OK, I want to do this race in 3 months time, or 6 months time, or a year from now, and I’ve got to plan to be at a certain level of fitness to be able to do well, especially when it comes to Ironman. It is a long process. You have to start to put a plan together and figure out how you will do it. Every day, every week, every month, you have to be ticking those boxes to be a step closer to reach that goal that you set for yourself. It is a big puzzle, and you’ve got to try not to be overwhelmed putting all the pieces together and believe that all the pieces are going to come together on race day.
MR World Wide… Multiple Ironman Champion. Living an endless summer, Coming soon to a race near you…
Thank you for sharing Paul!
some dreams are worth sharing…